Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Pregnant Gaps in "Juno"

I'm probably one of the last people in the United States to see Juno. I clearly need to get out more. Last night I finally rented the DVD - under pain of embarrassment since tomorrow's class will discuss abortion. I enjoyed the snappy dialogue and the wiseass humor, especially from Juno's parents. And I really didn't read it as glorifying teenage pregnancy or demonizing abortion, as did many commentators who actually go see movies while they're still in the theater.

But two things bugged me about it enough to require venting - two holes in plot/motivation big enough that you could drive a truck through them (or at least walk through them sideways while nine months pregnant).

(If you're one of the remaining five people who haven't seen the movie, you might stop here, because the rest of this post is full of spoilers. Sorry.)

First, I didn't buy Juno's motivations for walking out of the abortion clinic with her pregnancy intact. I'm not suggesting she should've had the abortion. That would be a doctrinaire and anti-choice position. I just wasn't convinced that anyone changes their mind just because the clinic's receptionist is a goth version of a twit with boundary issues, or because the other people in the waiting room appear to be basket cases.

What if it'd been clearer that Juno chose as she did in order to buck the pressure to be a conformist high schooler - to hide the pregnancy and pretend it never happened? That would be in character for her since later in the movie, she reacts to the stares at school with a "fuck 'em if they can't take a big belly" attitude. As it is, her decision seems capricious, which doesn't fit with Juno's smarts and savvy.

Juno's decision also just doesn't make emotional sense more generally. I don't believe that abortion is always a hard and fraught decision. Even when a woman is sad about deciding to abort and grieves her loss afterward, the decision itself might be clear to her and not a struggle at all. The same can be true for deciding to carry on with the pregnancy. I don't think, though, that it often hinges on completely random factors, as Juno's choice apparently does.

The second thing that left me feeling perplexed and unconvinced is how easily Juno gives up her baby at the end. Given how important it was for her to get to know the potential adoptive parents, can we really believe that she just puts the whole experience behind her as soon as she's "squeezed the baby out of her vag," as she would say? She could easily have decided in favor of an open adoption, which would ring more emotionally true with her behavior while pregnant.

Again, I'm not saying that she should have appeared tormented about relinquishing her baby. Having carried two of them to term, though, I know that it would be really hard not to form some sort of bond with the developing fetus. Juno doesn't use the term "fetus," anyway; to her, it's a baby from early on. When she goes for an ultrasound, you see her eyes shine with the wonder of it. She's not immune to that natural bonding that occurs gradually as you live with this strange, bony, watery creature inside you and feel its movements. So it would be much more convincing if she'd not just shrug it all off in the end but instead show a flash of wistful what-ifs.

Lacking that, I got wistful on her behalf, imagining how hard - how impossible - I would find it to grow a baby, give birth, give it away, and then forget about it. Interestingly, this isn't just the reaction of a sentimental old mama. One of my young male students reacted the same way about the ending. I think a lot of pro-life people want to believe in that pat ending, though, and that's why they advocate adoption as a one-size-fits-all solution. If only it were that easy.

LOLkitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?


SunflowerP said...

The early furor centred around the abortion aspect, and left me feeling pretty indifferent about seeing it. Your take on it, though, with the emphasis on the adoption angle... it sounds like the filmmakers couldn't decide (or perhaps weren't even able to distinguish!) which decade's narratives about adoption to use (the "hand the baby over, forget about it, and get on with your life" trope is soooo early '60s), so I may need to watch it to fulminate over adoption-related misconceptions.

Hmm, maybe this belongs on the "movies to see with JFP when I visit him" list (no idea when that'll be, but it pretty much is "when", not just "if").


Sungold said...

Yeah, the heart of the movie is actually Juno's developing relationship with a couple who plan to adopt her baby. But it's not really an early 1960s vibe; Juno is very aware of all of her options, and she chooses the one that she thinks will work best for *her*. I do like that about the movie. It's just that I wanted her decision-making process to be more fully developed and grounded in the character. And I wanted the movie to reflect more on the almost-inevitable relationship that one forms with the developing fetus.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts if you do see it, since you have much more direct experience than I do.

Nice to hear that you and JFP are *almost* making a plan to meet. I like him, based on comments he's left on your blog and at figleaf's. He seems smart and reflective. Yay!

SunflowerP said...

He is!

As you most likely figured, he's the "Other Sorta Special Someone" I referred to in my second comment on your "Shaken and Stirred" post.


Sungold said...

Well, I figured he was one of the two, and probably the second one. I hope the geography isn't too daunting. The wonderful thing about the Internet is how it seems to shrink distances. The awful thing is how the world is as huge as ever as soon as you step away from the screen and try to plot a non-virtual meeting.

Anyway, while you sure don't need anyone's blessing :-) I'm still very pleased for you!

Mollyfa said...

First, you are not alone, I just saw this movie last week. I had similar issues with it. I enjoyed the witty banter, and her smartass comments throughout, but decisions were made so easily it seemed.

I always think it's interesting when you have the pro life sect showing people with their babies, and saying, of course I never regret the decision to have my baby. Well, of course, nor should you, but I'm sure that there are plenty of people who decided not to have the baby and also don't regret it, because they went on to have happy healthy and mature relationships and other babies.

I don't know, I think I'm off track but I'm just throwin' that out there.

Sungold said...

No, I don't think you're off track. I totally agree that oversimplifying these decisions does no one any favors. It creates emotional lies that can only ambush the women (and kids) involved, perhaps much later down the line.